Muhajir people

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Muhajir people
Total population
12-13 million1
Regions with significant populations
primarily Urdu, local dialects in Punjab

Muhajir (Punjabi/Urdu: مہاجرGujarati: શરણાર્થીઓ)a is a term used in Pakistan to describe the immigrants from other parts of the South Asia and their descendants, who chose to settle in Pakistan and shifted their domicile after independence of Pakistan from British rule. Some had participated in the movement for a state of Pakistan in 1947. Most migrants migrated from the Muslim minority provinces to Muslim majority provinces within the British Raj.

Muhajir identity no longer exists in Punjab as most of the families have been assimilated into local culture and are identified geographically as Punjabis like other residents. Also the migrants remained active in local politics of the Punjab. General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was of Muhajir origin and he was born in the Indian side of Punjab and later migrated. Similarly famous politician of PMLN Khawaja Saad Rafique is the son of Khwaja Muhammad Rafique who migrated from Indian Punjab Indian to Pakistani Punjab after the partition.

Muhajir identity is more common in Sindh where some government policies led to the polarization between Sindhi and Urdu speakers.


The Urdu term muhājir (Urdu: مہاجر‎) comes from the Arabic muhājir (Arabic: مهاجر‎), meaning a "migrant", and the term is associated in early Islamic history to the migration of Muslims from Makkah to Madinah. After the independence of Pakistan, a significant number of Muslims emigrated or were out-migrated from territory that became India.2 A large portion of these migrants came from East Punjab, and settled in Pakistani Punjab. Sharing a common culture and with tribal linkages, many assimilated within a generation. Another significant percentage are of Gujarati ethnicity.

However, the majority of the Muslim migrants who moved to Sindh migrated from what then were the British Indian provinces of Bombay, Bihar, Central Provinces and Berar, Delhi, and the United Provinces, as well as the princely states of Hyderabad, Baroda, Kutch and the Rajputana Agency. Most of these refugees settled in the towns and cities of Sindh, such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas. Many spoke Urdu, or dialects of the language such as Dakhani, Khari boli, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Mewati and Marwari. Over a period of a few decades, these disparate groups sharing the common experience of migration, and political opposition to the military regime of Ayub Khan and his civilian successor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto evolved into a distinct ethnic grouping.3

Reasons for immigration

The reasons for immigration of Urdu-speaking people to Pakistan needs to be put in context with the context of the time. For many Muhajirs, particularly the noble and aristocratic class, settling in Pakistan was strongly associated with the independence movement.

The Pakistan movement, to constitute a separate state comprising the Muslim-majority provinces of South Asia, was pioneered by the Muslim elite of the region and many notables of the Aligarh Movement. It was initiated in the 19th century when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan expounded the Muslim autonomy in Aligarh. Many Muslim nobles, Nawabs (aristocrats and landed gentry) supported the idea. As the idea spread, it gained great support amongst the Muslim population of South Asia and in particular the rising middle and upper classes.

The Muslims had launched the movement under the banner of the All India Muslim League and Delhi was its main centre. The headquarters of All India Muslim League (the founding party of Pakistan) was based here since its creation in 1906 in Dhaka (present day Bangladesh) and up to August 1947. The participation in the movement on ideological grounds and supporting its Muslim cause with approximately half of the entire mandate in 1945–46 elections.4

The independence of Pakistan in 1947 saw the settlement of Muslim refugees fleeing from anti-Muslim pograms from India. In Karachi, the Urdu speaking Muhajirs form the majority of the population and gives the city its northern Indian atmosphere.5 The Muslim refugees lost their land and properties in India when they fled and were partly compensated by properties left by Hindus that migrated to India. The Muslim Gujaratis, Konkani, Hyderabadis, Marathi, Rajasthani, Punjabi fled India and settled in Karachi. There is also a sizable community of Malayali Muslims in Karachi (the Mappila), originally from Kerala in South India.6 The non-Urdu speaking Muslim refugees from India now speak the Urdu language and have assimilated and are considered as Muhajirs.

Most of the Muhajirs now live in Karachi which was the first capital of Pakistan. After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the minority Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India while the Muslim refugees from India settled in Karachi.7

Origin and ancestral roots

The history of Islam in India was predominantly based on conquest and occupation and the Ulema or the Islamic Theological clergy class composed predominantly of persons whose origins were either from Turkistan, Arabia or Persia and they had a vested interest as part of the colonial society to not permit the predominantly Indian Muslims and the non Muslim Indians from joining together against their Turanian/Iranian conquerors or colonisers. One of the reasons for the inevitable decline and fall of the Mughal dynasty was the presence of two rival Muslim classes. Even during the period of the Later Mughals, there were two rival factions viz. the Hindustani faction and the Mughal faction which included those whose ancestry was either Irani and Turani and there was a struggle for control of power and authority. The Hindustani Muslims comprised inter alia the Sayyids of Barha, the Afghan nobles, and Khan-i-Dauran, whose ancestors came from Badakhshan in the far north of the India and other indigenous Indian Muslims whose ancestors had been Hindus. The foreign Muslims were arbitrarily called Mughuls, but were really either Turani or Irani. The foreign nobles of diverse origin, were opposed as a class to the members of the Hindustani party.8 Muhajirs are a heterogeneous, multi-ethnic group of people belongs to different parts of India and those foreign Muslims who came to India from mainly Transoxiana, Iran and some Arabian countries. Muslims in India were divided by Ashrafi (Foreign) and Nau-Ashrafi (Non Foreign) Muslims. Muslims of India gone through many phases and later adopted Urdu as their first language. It is estimated about 35% of Urdu Speakers in Pakistan are of Pashtun/Afghan origin. Before the independence of Pakistan, in states such as U.P, Lucknow, Delhi had significant population of Afghans. These Afghans over the years lost their language Pashto and culture and adopted Urdu as their first language.Sub-groups also includes the Hyderabadi Muslims, Memon Muslims, Behari Muslims etc. who keep many of their unique cultural traditions.9 Muslims from what are now the states of Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were themselves of heterogeneous origin.

What defines a Muhajir now is education, urbanism and the Urdu language. Many Urdu speakers who settled in rural Punjab, such as the Ranghar and Meo, are no longer considered Muhajir. At the same time, Gujratis, Burmese, Memons, Bohras, Ismailis, Bengalis, Rajasthani Muslims, Marathi Muslims, Marwari Muslims, Konkani Muslims, people from Goa, people from Bombay State, Malwaris and Pashtuns of Afghanistan who were in India were counted as Muhajirs in Pakistan as they migrated to Pakistan after or during independence, and have urban lifestyles.

Settlement in Sindh

Most of the Urdu speaking Muslim refugees fleeing from anti-Muslim pograms from India to Pakistan settled in Sindh province.


In 1947, Karachi was chosen as the capital of newly independent state of Pakistan. Before the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the population of Karachi was 450,000 and had a small majority of 51% Sindhi and Balochi Muslims. Nearly all Hindu and Sikh population of Karachi migrated to India after the independence of Pakistan. By 1951, Karachi’s population had increased to 1.137 million because of the influx of nearly 1 million Muslim refugees from India and the population of Karachi was over 96% Muslim.

Demographics and distribution within Pakistan


Census History of Urdu Speakers in Pakistan
Year Population of Pakistan Percentage Urdu Speakers
1951 33,740,167 7.05% 2,378,681
1961 42,880,378 7.56% 3,246,044
1972 65,309,340 7.60% 4,963,509
1981 84,253,644 7.51% 6,369,575
1998 132,352,279 7.57% 9,939,656
Provinces of Pakistan by Urdu speakers (1998)
Rank Division Urdu speakers Percentage
Pakistan 9,939,656 7.57%
1 Sindh 6,407,596 21.05%
2 Punjab 3,320,320 4.51%
3 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 138,400 0.78%
4 Islamabad Capital Territory 81,409 10.11%
5 Balochistan 63,032 0.96%
6 Federally Administered Tribal Areas 5,717 0.18%

Culture and lifestyle

After independence, when the Muslims arrived in Pakistan, the values the migrants brought with them varied from region to region, depending on their origin. The rich heritage brought by migrants from the urban centres of India, such as Lucknow, Delhi and Hyderabad, which had been seats of Islamic culture and learning for centuries, were to have a major influence on the cities of Pakistan, especially Karachi. The notable 20th-century Islamic scholar/author Muhammad Hamidullah, was involved in formulating the first constitution of Pakistan.

The use of the term "Muhajir" is no longer an acceptable colloquialism in Pakistan as it once was amongst the early immigrants. They came with particular traditions and customs from the various regions. People in their 20s and 30s today prefer to be considered "just-Pakistani" and rarely are aware of their British Indian origins. There have been numerous mixed marriages and growing assimilation within Karachi's neighborhoods over the last four generations.


Upon arrival in Pakistan, the Muhajirs did not assert themselves as a separate ethnic identity but were at the forefront of trying to a construct an Islamic Pakistani identity. The Muhajirs were a key vote-bank for the anti-hardline elements. Muhajirs dominated the bureaucracy of the early Pakistani state, largely due to their higher levels of educational attainment. Gradually as education became more widespread, Punjabis and Pashtuns, as well as other native Pakistanis, have started to take their fair share of the pool. However, the critical early years was facilitated by the experience that many Muhajir had both in politics and in higher education.

As previously mentioned, this situation changed by the 1970s, when other ethnic groups began to assert themselves more strongly and demand more rights. Their activism was fuelled by the widespread introduction of education and rising literacy rates, particularly amongst the country's two largest ethnic groups, the Punjabis and the Pashtuns. Changes included the right to use local languages rather than Urdu (leading to language riots in Sindh), and quotas in Pakistan for underprivileged ethnic groups in government and educational institutions.

Seeing their privileged status threatened, the Muhajirs began to assert themselves as a separate ethnic group and to organise themselves politically. The most notable manifestations were the creations of the All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organization and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (formerly the Muhajir National Movement) as a secular progressive ethnic movement. Since then, the MQM has dominated politics in the Muhajir areas of Karachi, Hyderabad, and other urban centres in Sindh. Not all Muhajirs support the MQM. Even though the MQM has worked to shift from an ethnic movement to a nationwide political movement, its political stronghold is still largely restricted to its Muhajir base.


The phrase Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla ("The language of the exalted") written in Nastaʿlīq script.

The original language of the Mughals had been Turkish. After their migration to South Asia, they came to adopt Persian and later Urdu. Urdu is an Indo-European language, and in the Indo-Aryan subdivision. The word Urdu is believed to be derived from the Turkish word 'Ordu', which means army (Hence Urdu is sometimes called "Lashkarī zabān", Persian for "the language of the army"). It was initially called Zaban-e-Ordu or language of the army and later just Urdu. The word 'Ordu' was later Anglicised as 'Horde'. Urdu, though of South Asian origin, came to be heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic and somewhat by Turkish; however, its grammatical structure is based on old Parakrit or Sanskrit. Urdu speakers have adopted this language as their mother tongue for several centuries.

Autograph and a couplet of Last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, dated 29 April 1844

Urdu has been the medium of the literature, history and journalism of South Asian Muslims during the last 400 years. Most of the work was complemented by ancestors of native Urdu speakers in South Asia. The Persian language, which was the official language during and after the reign of the Mughals, was slowly starting to lose ground to Urdu during the reign of Aali Gohar Shah Alam II. Subsequently, Urdu developed rapidly as the medium of literature, history and journalism of South Asian Muslims. Most of the literary and poetic work was complemented by various historic poets of mughal and subsequent era, among which Mir Taqi Mir, Khwaja Mir Dard, Mir Amman Dehalvi, Mirza Ghalib, Bahadur Shah II Sir Syed Khan and Maulana Hali are the most notable ones. The Persian language, which had its roots during the time of Moguls, was then replaced later by Urdu. Mogul kings like Shah Jahan rendered patronage as well as support. Many poets in Pakistan such as Zafar Iqbal, Sir Mohammed Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faraz, Munir Niazi and Saifuddin Saif contributed their efforts for the Urdu language.

Contribution in literature

Ghalib poem in Nastaliq


Muhajirs brought their rich poetic culture along with them which they held in their original states centuries ago prior to independence. Some of the most notable ones historic poets are Mir Taqi Mir, Mir Aman Dehalwi, Khawaja Mir Dard,Jigar Muradabad etc. Subsequent to independence, many notable Urdu poets migrated to Pakistan, besides a large number of less famous poets, authors, linguists and amateurs. Consequently, Mushaira and Bait Bazi became a part of the national culture in Pakistan. Josh Malihabadi, Jigar Moradabadi, Akhtar Sheerani, Tabish Dehlvi, Nayyer Madani and Nasir Kazmi are a few of the noteworthy poets. Later, Jon Elia, Parveen Shakir, Mustafa Zaidi, Dilawar Figar, Iftikhar Arif, Rafi Uddin Raaz and Raees Warsi became noted for their distinction.


With the emergence of Muhajirs in urban areas of Pakistan, Urdu virtually became the lingua franca. The country's first Urdu Conference took place in Karachi in April 1951, under the auspices of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu. The Anjuman, headed by Maulvi Abdul Haq not only published the scattered works of classical and modern writers, but also provided a platform for linguists, researchers and authors. Among them Shan-ul-Haq Haqqee, Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi, Josh Malihabadi, Qudrat Naqvi, Mahir-ul-Qadri, Hasan Askari, Jameel Jalibi and Intizar Hussain are significant names. Whereas Akhtar Hussain Raipuri, Sibte Hassan and Sajjad Zaheer were more inclined to produce left-winged literature. Among women writers, Qurratulain Hyder, Khadija Mastoor, Altaf Fatima and Fatima Surayya Bajia became the pioneer female writers on feminist issues.

Contribution in science and technology

Muhajirs have played an extremely important and influential role in science and technology in Pakistan. Scientists such as Ziauddin Ahmed, Raziuddin Siddiqui and Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, gave birth to Pakistan Science and later built the integrated weapons program, on request of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Muhajir later forwarded to developed the Pakistan's space program and other scientific and strategic programs of Pakistan. Many prominent scientists come from the Muhajir class including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Ghulam Murtaza, Raziuddin Siddiqui, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, and Atta ur Rahman to name a few.

Contribution in art and music

The Muhajir community brings a rich culture with it. Muhajirs have and continue to play an essential role in defining and enriching Pakistani culture and more significantly, music. Some famous Muhajir Pakistani musicians include: Nazia Hassan, Mehdi Hassan, Munni Begum, and Ahmed Jahanzeb. Muhajirs contribution has not been limited to pop but has spanned various music genres, from traditional Ghazal singing to rock. Muhajirs in Pakistan are also famous for their contribution towards the art of painting. Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi, one of the most famous painter of the world, was a Pakistani painter who was born in Amroha, India.

Contribution in business and industry

After the division of South Asia in 1947 by the then British Government through Indian Independence Act 1947; the Muslims who immigrated to Pakistan were well educated and consisted of journalists, urban intellectuals, professors, bureaucrats, lawyers, teachers, academics and scholers etc. Although there were those that had migrated who were the bourgeoisie consisting of merchants, industrialists or capitalists, a large number of those who immigrated from the rural areas and villages also consisted of labourers and artisans. The eminent business groups that shifted from India to Pakistan were Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Orient Airways, among others. Other businesses were established in Pakistan by some of the notable figures as United Bank Limited, Hamdard Pakistan Limited, Schon group. It is also known that besides founding several Governmental organizations like State Bank of Pakistan, they played an influential role in initiating the Atomic Energy Commission, Kanup, and several other institutions. Muhajirs were also found in administration, establishment and politics.11

The initial business elites of Pakistan were Muhajirs. Prominents example of businesses started by them include Habib Bank Limited, Hyesons, M. M. Ispahani Limited, Schon group etc. Nationalization proved to be catastrphpic for Muhajir-owned businesses, and the final blow was delivered as a result of discriminatory policies during the dictatorship of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. In recent years, many Muhajirs have established their businesses in Pakistan, with a focus on textile, garment, leather, food prodcts, cosmetics and personal goods industries. Many of Pakistan's largest financial institutions were founded or headed by Muhajirs, including the State Bank of Pakistan, EOBI, Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, United Bank Limited Pakistan, First Women Bank et cetera.

Contribution in sports

Muhajir are active in many sports in Pakistan. Muhajir are playing in the Pakistani cricket team with well-known players such as Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Mohsin Khan, Sikhander Bakht and Moin Khan. There are now younger players like Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, Khurram Manzoor playing for the international side. Muhajirs are notably involved hockey, tennis, squash and badminton. Bodybuilding and weightlifting are increasing in popularity among younger members of the Muhajir community.


Muhajirs clung to their old established habits and tastes, including a numerous desserts, savoury dishes and beverages. The Mughal and Indo-Iranian heritage played an influential role in the making of their cuisine. In comparison to other native Pakistani dishes, Muhajir cuisine tends to use traditional royal cuisine specific to the old royal dynasties of now defunct states of ancient India. Most of a dastarkhawan dining table include chapatti, rice, dal, vegetable and meat curry. Special dishes include biryani, qorma, kofta, seekh kabab, Nihari and Haleem, Nargisi Koftay, Roghani Naan, Naan, sheer-qurma (sweet), qourma, chai (sweet, milky tea), paan and Hyderabadi cuisine, and other delicacies associated with Muhajir culture.


Since Pakistan's independence in 1947, there has been a steady rise in intermarriages that have taken place between Punjabis, Kashmiris, Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Brahuis and Muhajirs.

See also


  1. ^ sometimes referred to as "Urdu-speaking people" or "Urdumandan" (Urdu: اردومندان‎; singular "Urdumand" Urdu: اردومند‎)


  1. ^ Taken from The World Factbook figures based upon the 1998 census of Pakistan.
  2. ^ Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, The Long Partition and the making of modern South Asia: refugees, boundaries, histories, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  3. ^ Oskar Verkaaik, A people of migrants: ethnicity, state, and religion in Karachi, Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1994
  4. ^ Prof. M. Azam Chaudhary, The History of the Pakistan Movement, p. 368. Abdullah Brothers, Urdu Bazar Lahore.
  5. ^ "Karachi violence stokes renewed ethnic tension". IRIN Asia. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
  6. ^ Where Malayalees once held sway, DNA India
  7. ^ Population increase in Karachi - Ref. from Port Qasim Official website
  8. ^ History of Modern India, 1707 A. D. to 2000 A. D by Radhey Shyam Chaurasia, Atlantic Publishers
  9. ^ Karen Isaksen Leonard, Locating home: India's Hyderabadis abroad
  10. ^ 1998 census report of Pakistan. Islamabad: Population Census Organization, Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan, 2001.
  11. ^
  12. ^

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